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India Proposes Formation of Regional Disaster Management Office

India has proposed setting up a regional disaster management center to help South Asia improve its response to humanitarian crises following the December Indian Ocean tsunami and last month's devastating earthquake in Kashmir. The proposal came as foreign ministers gathered for two days of talks in the Bangladeshi capital ahead of the weekend summit of SAARC - the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation.

Indian Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran says India would be willing to host a regional disaster management office given the calamities that have hit South Asia in the past year.

In December, more than 200,000 people died after an earthquake generated tsunami waves that washed way thousands of coastal towns across 12 countries ringing the Indian Ocean.

Last month, more than 80,000 perished in another earthquake, this time in Kashmir, the disputed region between India and Pakistan.

Mr. Saran is expected to discuss the idea with foreign ministers from the six other South Asian nations Friday. If it is approved, it will go before national leaders during the SAARC summit this weekend.

Raja Mohan, with the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, says several initiatives on disasters are likely.

"I don't see them becoming controversial," he said. "It's a question of the mechanics. But I'm quite confident we'll be moving in that direction."

SAARC groups India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal and the Maldives. So far, no other official has commented on the Indian proposal.

The annual meeting of the seven South Asian nations is intended to spur regional economic integration to reduce poverty and improve trade. In addition to disaster management, terrorism also is expected to be on the agenda.

Last month, the Indian capital was rocked by three bomb blasts that killed nearly 60 people, and in August, extremists in Bangladesh carried out more than 200 bombings in a coordinated attack.

Indian officials are concerned that militants use neighboring countries such as Pakistan and Bangladesh to hide while they prepare to carry out attacks within India.